If you had told Brad Underwood prior to Saturday afternoon’s game against No. 2-ranked Kansas that Mitchell Solomon and Davon Dillard would combine for 22 points and 12 rebounds the first-year Oklahoma State coach would have been thrilled.
But despite Solomon (16 points and four rebounds) and Dillard (six points and eight rebounds) having the best performances of their college careers it wasn’t enough against the Jayhawks, who will likely move up to No. 1 in the rankings following the 87-80 victory over the Cowboys.
KU won its 16th consecutive game since losing its season opener to improve to 16-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12. OSU falls to 10-7 overall and 0-5 in conference play. It was OSU’s 11th consecutive conference loss, dating back to last season.
Oklahoma State has now lost its last 15 conference road games (0-3 this season, 0-9 last season, and the Cowboys lost their last three of the 2014-15 season). The last conference road win (74-65) was at Baylor on Feb. 9, 2015.
The Cowboys led midway through the second half when Solomon hit back-to-back free throws to go up 62-61. But a Landen Lucas free throw and Devonte Graham’s three-pointer put the Jayhawks up for good.
KU scored 20 of its last 22 points either on lay-ups or free throws. The Jayhawks were 30 of 45 on free throws, while the Cowboys made 11 of 14.
“We fought, we competed, and I think we had a little tenacity to us, we had a little grit to us,” Underwood said. “We weren’t back on our heels to start.
"It was an opportunity to get one on the road, and that's all you can ask for in the last two minutes of a ballgame with the number-one team in the country in their building in front of 16,000. It's not where we want to be. We're 0-5 [in the conference], we're playing better than that, and we've got to get one."
Solomon’s lay-up pulled the Cowboys with 76-74 with four minutes to play, and then his follow after Jawun Evans’ shot was blocked made it 79-76 with 2:15 on the clock.
But KU freshman Josh Jackson’s basket and subsequent free throw on Solomon’s fourth foul stretched the lead to six points.
The Cowboys entered the game was the nation’s fifth-best offensive rebounding team but it was the Jayhawks who came up with the play down the stretch. OSU was out-rebounded 42-31, and the Jayhawks finished with 14 offensive rebounds.
“Right there through the half and most of the second half it was a challenge keeping them off the glass,” Underwood said. “One of my biggest pet peeves in basketball is an offensive rebound off a free throw, and those killed us. That was the ballgame. Those are winning plays.
“I was barking at guys on the bench about giving up rebounds off free throws – there’s four of us and there’s two of them – and you can’t go on the road and win. We probably gave up more tonight then I’ve given up in my career it seems like.”
Jeffrey Carroll led all scorers with 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including making all three of his three-point attempts, while adding seven rebounds and three assists.
Solomon entered the game averaging 4.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, and finished with 16 points (making all six of his field goals and 4-of-6 free throws. He also added four rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot before fouling out with 1:12 left.
“We found a player in Mitchell Solomon tonight. I’m very proud of him and his fight. He gives us another look, another option when we can run our ball-screen stuff and actually throw him the ball,” Underwood said.
“I was very proud of him and I was very proud of Davon. Davon led us in rebounding with eight, he gives us a little swagger, a little toughness, and it was nice to see that.”
Dillard was averaging 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds, and was outstanding with six points, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal while playing a career-high 20 minutes.
Jawun Evans contributed 15 points, six assists, two steals and a block, while Phil Forte finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
“I thought Jawun [Evans] got us off to a nice start. I can’t say enough positive things about Phil [Forte] and his leadership. Even though maybe he didn’t have a huge shooting night, his energy was huge," Underwood said.
The Cowboys will return to action Wednesday night against No. 25 Kansas State inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. Tip is 8 p.m.